Some days—the days you might feel like giving up—call for extra poetry. Like the day someone you love has a hard task ahead of them. (Yesterday.) And the day your usually sweet but overly anxious pup bites a helper at the vet. (Also yesterday.) When you feel both powerless and like you messed up somehow—poetry. And then write about it.
The poem below by Ada Limón is one my writing group of bereaved mothers used as a prompt over the past weekend. We’ve been writing together for twenty years. We’ve written thousands of words about grief and love and loss and what comes after. You might think we’ve written everything that can be written by now, but we can still surprise ourselves and each other with our words.
Writing after reading this poem opened up something new for me—like a fresh leaf in spring uncurling after a long winter.
What will it open up in you?
Instructions on Not Giving Up
—by Ada Limón
More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.
You can click through to listen to Limón read the poem herself here.
a writing prompt
Read or listen to the poem again, then let your thoughts unfurl on the page as you respond. If you want a line to begin, start with “it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me” Or “Fine then, I’ll take it…” Or write your own instructions for not giving up, with the greening of spring as inspiration.
a May workshop: Writing for the Soul
Join me for an upcoming workshop where we will write together. Writing for the Soul will meet for four Mondays in May on Zoom.
May 8, 15, 22, 29 | 7-8:30 pm + See the poll below if a Monday morning works for you instead.
Join a small group for a 4-week workshop using writing as a healing practice. We’ll start with poetry, images, objects, and more as prompts to get our writing going. We'll pay attention to our words, explore our memories and imagination, and give ourselves permission to experiment on the page. We'll listen generously to one another's words when we choose to share. No writing experience is necessary, and all are welcome.
In my Writing in Company workshops, we believe that everyone is a writer with a strong and personal voice, and valuable words to discover. We write to find our voice and share it. Any feedback given in the workshop is supportive.
Let’s write together.
You can read more about this—and all my workshops—and register here.
The regular cost for the workshop is $100. Paid subscribers have a 25% discount, and the code to register was sent in an email. If you are a paid subscriber (thank you!) and you need it sent again, please let me know.
Want to join this and future workshops at a discounted rate, and enjoy a monthly online writing hour with others, plus support my work? You can upgrade to a paid subscription.
a workshop poll
Some folks have expressed interest in a Monday daytime workshop. Let me know if a Monday AM time would work for you, and I’ll add one if there is enough interest.
April Writing Hour - this Saturday April 22 at 4 pm Eastern
Our next live writing hour on Zoom for paid subscribers is this Saturday, April 22 at 4 pm Eastern. If you want to write in company with others, you are welcome to join us. You can upgrade your subscription for a month ($7) just to try it. A separate email to paid subscribers will go out soon with the link, or you can find it on my Substack page called Writing Hours. Let’s write together.
I’m not a poetry expert (just an enthusiast!), but I do know that April is National Poetry month. At my local library I picked up a Bingo card to help encourage more poetry during the month. I’m sharing a photo of it here, hoping you can make time for more poetry this month too, as a way to not give up. Today I’m checking off “Suggest a poem to a friend” and if you share this post with someone else, you can too.
like | comment | share
There should be little icons below where you can like, comment or share this post. Let me know what you think about the prompt, or come back and add some of what you write in the comments.
Know someone who might enjoy this prompt or others? Please share!
You can read another poem and prompt I shared about Ada Limón last summer when she was appointed as the Poet Laureate of the United States.
Don’t give up, friends. Poetry and spring both invite us to keep going. What is helping you not give up these days?
I feel embarrassed that I missed your connection to writing through a bereaved mothers thread. This might be completely off the topic of what you were hoping, but I am wondering when/how you processed anger in this area of life. And if that’s writing you’ve ever shared in a public space.
I love the thought of some days requiring extra poetry. What a lovely prescription (as an alternative to the harsher medicine so often offered!)
Your words remind me of Rilke’s instructions for not giving up in his poem “Go to the Limits of your Longing”-
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.